I was honoured to be invited to the annual regional conference for Norwegian journalists, taking place annually in a small town called ‘Hell’ (Try Earth Google ‘Hell, Norway’). During this conference, I was asked to participate in a panel debate about the theme: ‘Climate – how should we [the media] deal with world’s most pressing issue?’ (my translation from Norwegian; by the way ‘Gods expedition’ means ‘Cargo shipment’ in ‘old’ Norwegian dialect).
The majority of the presentations focused on the science, but aspects such as the utility and the benefit of meteorology and climatology were also discussed. A media session also provided some thoughts about outreach and presented some examples of how weather is presented on TV. While gender and educational issues were discussed, the underrepresentation of other minorities was neglected.
Global climate statistics, such as the global mean temperature, provide good indicators as to how our global climate varies (e.g. see here). However, most people are not directly affected by global climate statistics. They care about the local climate; the temperature, rainfall and wind where they are. When you look at the impacts of a climate change or specific adaptations to a climate change, you often need to know how a global warming will affect the local climate.
Yet, whereas the global climate models (GCMs) tend to describe the global climate statistics reasonably well, they do not provide a representative description of the local climate. Regional climate models (RCMs) do a better job at representing climate on a smaller scale, but their spatial resolution is still fairly coarse compared to how the local climate may vary spatially in regions with complex terrain. This fact is not a general flaw of climate models, but just the climate models’ limitation. I will try to explain why this is below.
There are a few minor items this week worthy of mention:
1. The CO2 rise. Who dunnit?
Here at RealClimate, we have been (naively, apparently) operating under the assumption that climate change contrarians had long ago moved on from the untenable position that humans are not even responsible for the observed increase in CO2 concentrations over the past two centuries. The dubious paper by Ernst Beck we commented on the other day indicates that there is indeed still a rear guard attack being waged. As if to drive the point home further, pundit Alexander Cockburn, known generally for his progressive views, has perplexingly disputed the existence of any link between CO2 emissions and rising CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere in a screed he penned this week for the online journal “Counterpunch” (also printed in The Nation). It’s hard to know where to start, since his piece is so over the top and gets just about everything so thoroughly wrong, it’s almost comical. So we’ll just hit the low points: (a) Cockburn claims that there is zero empirical evidence that anthropogenic production of CO2 is making any measurable contribution to the world’s present warming trend, despite the fact that not even such strident climate change contrarians as Pat Michaels dispute that there is a measurable influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases on global temperature. Plus there’s all the empirical evidence of course (see the new IPCC report). (b) Going further, Cockburn brazenly opines that ‘it is impossible to assert that the increase in atmospheric CO2 stems from human burning of fossil fuels’ despite the fact that there is an isotopic smoking gun for this connection. He then (c) fails to understand that water vapor is a feedback not a forcing, and citing ‘expert’ Dr. Martin Hertzberg, quite remarkably states that ‘It is the warming of the earth that is causing the increase of carbon dioxide and not the reverse.’ Never mind that isotopic evidence proves otherwise. Upon what evidence does he base this assertion?
Since no anti-global warming op-ed these days is complete without it, Cockburn (d) resorts to the usual misrepresentation of lag/lead relationships between CO2 and temperatures during glacial/interglacial cycles as if they disprove the causal relationship between greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures (see our most recent debunking of this favorite contrarian talking point here). Oh dear.
2. The other (Glenn) Beck–Even Worse!
CNN gave their resident shock-jock Glenn Beck a forum for spreading more disinformation on global warming in an hour-long segment entitled Exposed: The Climate of Fear (see also this discussion by “Media Matters”). We could pick apart his (rather thin) arguments, which constitute the usual cocktail of long debunked contrarian talking points. Suffice it to say, however, that the moment a rhetorician invokes Hitler, Nazi Germany, and Eugenics, it is the moment they are no longer worthy of being listened to (cf Godwin’s Law of usenet debates). We don’t seem to be alone in our opinion here. Beck’s performance earned him the dubious title of “worst person in the world” from analyst Keith Olbermann.
However, there was one amusing moment: Beck asked Christopher ‘Incorrect’ Horner what the key thing to google was that would show that Al Gore was wrong. Horner suggested the lag between CO2 and temperature in the ice cores. Of course, if you do Google that, the first hit is the RealClimate debunking of the issue. Thanks!
3. Nature’s new blog
Nature has started a new blog called “Climate Feedback”, which says of itself ‘Climate Feedback is a blog hosted by Nature Reports: Climate Change to facilitate lively and informative discussion on the science and wider implications of global warming. The blog aims to be an informal forum for debate and commentary on climate science in our journals and others, in the news, and in the world at large.’
Does a global temperature exist? This is the question asked in a recently published article in Journal of Non-Equilibrium Thermodynamics by Christopher Essex, Ross McKitrick, and Bjarne Andresen. The paper argues that the global mean temperature is not physical, and that there may be many other ways of computing a mean which will give different trends.
The common arithmetic mean is just an estimate that provides a measure of the centre value of a batch of measurements (centre of a cloud of data points, and can be written more formally as the integral of x f(x) dx. The whole paper is irrelevant in the context of a climate change because it missed a very central point. CO2 affects all surface temperatures on Earth, and in order to improve the signal-to-noise ratio, an ordinary arithmetic mean will enhance the common signal in all the measurements and suppress the internal variations which are spatially incoherent (e.g. not caused by CO2 or other external forcings). Thus the choice may not need a physical justification, but is part of a scientific test which enables us to get a clearer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. One could choose to look at the global mean sea level instead, which does have a physical meaning because it represents an estimate for the volume of the water in the oceans, but the choice is not crucial as long as the indicator used really responds to the conditions under investigation. And the global mean temperature is indeed a function of the temperature over the whole planetary surface.